The Garden of the Gods, a registered National Natural Landmark, is located in Colorado Springs CO and is completely free to visit. Set at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, the main draw of the park is to marvel at the red sandstone rock formations scattered throughout. There are 17 different formations altogether and many different hiking trails totalling 21 miles. The Visitor Centre is a good place to start, you can pick up a free map which is helpful as there isn’t a huge amount of signage out on the trails.
Garden of the Gods Hiking
The Visitor Centre also has one of my favourite views in the park. You can see North Gateway Rock, South Gateway Rock and Gray Rock in front of the Rocky Mountains. I like the contrast of colours, from the orange/brown in the front to the green of the lower mountains and then the white of the snow capped Pikes Peak.
The guides at the visitor information are very helpful and gave us tips for some of the best Garden of the Gods hiking trails when you’re pushed for time and want to make sure that you see everything!
You could essentially hike around the whole park, all the different trails around the formations are connected together. There’s a large car park near the Visitor Centre where you could start and finish.
Alternatively there are 16 different parking areas which connect to shorter hiking trails. I visited on a Monday during the Christmas holidays, yes in December and it was PACKED, I think it was only by luck that we managed to find a place to park at each of the places we stopped at! I can’t imagine how busy it could get during the summer! Many of the parking areas only had a handful of spaces that were along the side of the road
Gateway/Perkins Central Garden Trail
The Perkins Central Garden Trail can be reached easily from the Visitor Centre, or there is a fairly large (but still full up during my visit) parking area, P2 at the start of the trail which has toilet facilities too.
The hiking trail is a less than 2 mile loop and takes in 12 of the 17 rock formations. It’s the only trail that is paved so is suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs/strollers and stays very flat. The North and South Gateway Rocks reminded me a lot of Uluru/Ayers Rock in Australia. Being made from the same sandstone material they look very similar close up!
There is a short ‘Upper Loop’ unpaved area on the Perkins Central Garden Trail which is the highest point you can climb in the park without a permit. It’s made up of stairs that can get kinda slippery in the winter. This loop was my favourite part of this trail.
Siamese Twins Trail
The Siamese Twins Trail was my favourite trail. P14 is a small car park and the loop up to the Siamese Twins formation and back is less than a mile. It surprised me that this trail wasn’t as busy as some of the others. The trail is unpaved and does involve stairs, we didn’t see anyone else on the trail until we reached the rock formation at the top. It was peaceful and we could enjoy our surroundings.
The Siamese Twins is a cool formation, the two rocks join together creating a small hole in-between them that create a natural window that perfectly frames Pikes Peak mountain in the background.
Looking away from the Siamese Twins, the top of this trail offers great views across the rest of the park. You can’t necessarily see any of the other sandstone formations, but you can see the mountains and the rest of the Colorado landscape.
I renamed Balanced Rock as ‘Instagram Rock’. There is a Balanced Rock trail but it pops up a little up the road from the rock. You’ll find parking spots just off the road, right next to Balanced Rock. It gets a little bottled necked in this area, as the rock can be seen from the road and because its not an actual car park you pull in to, people tend to drive extra slow in hope that someone pulls out and they can then take the spot.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pretty cool rock, but if you look closely, you can see that it’s been ‘reinforced’ as it now sits on a concrete base that looks a little unnatural compared to some of the other formations.
There was also a long line for photos. Of course I did line up for one but there were also a lot of people that didn’t seem to care that there were other people waiting and just carried on with their Instagram photoshoot which is always a little bit frustrating, take a picture and move on. You also got people that tried to push in despite there being a line or then stood so close they took up the whole frame and then had to be edited out. For this reason I got frustrated and it was my least favourite formation.
Yes I like being in photos but the photographer in me likes to be able to get nature shots without people in too…this wasn’t too hard to do at the other locations but at Balanced Rock it was next to impossible. Maybe if you visit first thing in the morning or outside of the school breaks, you might stand more chance of getting a people-less shot.
Visiting Garden of the Gods
As mentioned, the Garden of the Gods is free to visit. The land was once owned by Charles Elliot Perkins and when he died in 1907, the park was given to the city of Colorado Springs on the understanding that it would always be free for the public to enter. There is of course a gift shop, a theatre about the history which has a small charge and a cafe. The park also accepts donations.
The visitor centre is open from 9am – 5pm but the park is open between 5am – 9pm. Although a free map from the visitor centre is helpful, a slightly more basic version of the map can be found on the Garden of the Gods website, if you did want to visit outside of the visitor centre hours!
If you don’t want to hike Garden of the Gods, there are guided jeep, Segway and trolley tours available for a charge.